The great outdoors

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Panoramic view from the summit of the sponsored walk 2019

Schools are rooted in their communities. This means that every school is unique. One of Churchill’s unique features is our situation on the edge of an area of outstanding natural beauty. Our rural location is so beautiful, it would be a shame not to make the most of it!

This past week has seen us do exactly that. Even though the weather has not been what we might have hoped for in summer (in fact, we are heading for one of the wettest Junes on record), Churchill students have been out on the Mendips in huge numbers.

 

Over the weekend, ninety one students successfully completed their expeditions as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award. Teams of students spend two days navigating their way through the Somerset countryside, cooking for themselves and camping overnight. They were completely self-sufficient and independent, and were a huge credit to the Academy. I visited the overnight camp – in a farmer’s field – and the owner told me that Churchill students were the best she’s ever had camping there. Duke of Edinburgh is a tough challenge, but when I walked around the camp there was a huge sense of accomplishment mixed in with the exhaustion!

 

On Tuesday we had the annual sponsored walk and trek. Over 500 Year 7 and 8 students completed the sponsored walk – 16 kilometres including a mid-point climb to the trig point near Crook Peak. I had the pleasure of walking the walk this year, accompanying the Year 7 Tudor boys. They were great company, and showed plenty of determination, kindness and curiosity over the day. The views from the top were well worth the effort!

At the same time, Year 9 and 10 students were visiting checkpoints on the sponsored trek. This is a more independent challenge, with a “treasure hunt” across the Mendips to see which small team could navigate their way to the most checkpoints whilst working together collaboratively. This year, the “Legends of Trek” awards went to Year 9 Stuart Boys Team 4, with 60 points, closely followed by Year 9 Tudor Boys Team 4 and Year 10 Windsor Girls Team 1, both with 59 points. The Team Trek special award went to Year 9 Tudor Girls Team 6, but the overall winners were Hanover House with an average score across all their teams of 37.2, narrowly beating Tudor into second place with their average of 36.5.

Both these events were also important fundraising opportunities, supporting both the Friends of Churchill Academy and our nominated charity, Guide Dogs. For us as a school, they also give our students and staff the opportunity to get out into the beautiful Somerset countryside to demonstrate the Academy’s values of kindness (through teamwork, and looking after the environment), curiosity (by discovering new parts of our local area that students might not have visited before), and determination (by pushing themselves to take on a challenge). It is only possible with the fantastic support of the entire staff team, who all work together to ensure we can undertake the events safely – thank you to all of them, and to all the students who have risen to the challenge and enjoyed our great outdoors this week.

Finding your fire

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“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”

Plutarch

I often use that quotation when I am talking about education. When I was at school in north west London in the early 1990s, my mind was lit up by English Literature, and particularly poetry. My teachers were skilful and knowledgeable enough to feed that fire, which led me to studying English Language and Literature at university. The flame continued to burn brightly as I trained to teach English, and has been the torch that has guided me throughout my career. There is no greater pleasure than passing on that spark to somebody else, and seeing them get as excited as you do about your subject.

For me it was English. For others it’s Mathematics, or hockey, or cooking, or chemistry, or painting, dance, textiles, the saxophone…

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Our Year 7 students in a cookery workshop with Michelin-star-winning chef Josh Eggleton, and Churchill alumnus Nick Woodhouse, who completed an apprenticeship with Josh after leaving Churchill

Where our students have already found their passion, we do our best as a school to nurture it. But one of the most important things adults can do for young people is introduce them to as many new subjects, skills and experiences as possible. Every time we do, we open up possibilities. This could be the thing that really lights their fire.

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Game Stars competition winner Tabitha with Josh Eggleton (and me!) this week at the opening of the food rooms

Another important thing that we must do is help the next generation see that they don’t always have to do things the way that they have always been done. We have to help them see past stereotyping in subjects, jobs, and careers. We try hard to help our students challenge stereotypes and do things differently. We named the Athene Donald Building after the first woman to be made a professor in any of the physical sciences in Cambridge to show that women and girls have just as much of a future in scientific careers as men and boys.

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Our students Saffron, Mimi and Mia with the Soroptimists and dignitaries at this week’s Skirting Science event

This week we built on that tradition with our Skirting Science event, welcoming girls from nine different schools to Churchill to get experiences of possible futures in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, by hearing from women in those fields. Also this week we invited Michelin-starred chef Josh Eggleton to open the new food rooms to show that a career in the kitchen is not defined by gender but by skill, passion and enthusiasm.

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Students at work with forensic scientists from the University of the West of England (Bristol) at Skirting Science

The vision for our school is “to set no limits on what we can achieve.” If we are serious about this, it means that we need to challenge the limits that other people’s expectations place on us. We aim to kindle the flame that sustains the skills, talents, passions and enthusiasms of our young people, whether they pursue them within school or beyond.

D-Day 75

75 years ago today, on 6th June 1944, Allied forces landed on five beaches in Normandy, Northern France. Overnight, gliders and paratroopers had landed further inland. The landings represented the first phase of Operation Overlord – the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe – with the aim of bringing World War Two to an end.

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Men of the 16th Infantry Regiment, US 1st Infantry Division wade ashore on Omaha Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944

The Allied forces of US, British and Canadian troops also included Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian [present-day Zimbabwe] and Polish naval, air and ground support. Up to 7,000 ships and landing craft were involved, delivering a total of 156,000 men and 10,000 vehicles to the shore. By the end of the day, 4,400 troops died from the combined allied forces. Some 9,000 were wounded or missing. Total German casualties on the day are estimated as being between 4,000 and 9,000 men. Thousands of French civilians also died.

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Map of the Normandy landings

But, by midnight of 6th June, the Allies had secured their beachheads (codenamed Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha and Utah) and begun to push further inland. Within eleven months, Nazi Germany was defeated and the war was over. 

D-Day marked the turning point in the Second World War. It was a remarkable military, technical, logistical and physical achievement, made possible by international cooperation, driven by a shared belief in the importance of defeating the oppression and horror of the Nazi regime.

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Lt. Jim Hildrew, Royal Navy, c. 1941

The anniversary of D-Day is always a special one to me. My grandfather, Jim Hildrew, was in the Royal Navy during the Second World  War. He supported the Allied invasion of France from the English Channel, working on Operation PLUTO (Pipe-Line Under The Ocean) which was designed to supply fuel from England to the Allied armies in France by laying flexible pipes all the way across the seabed. I am proud to think that he made his contribution to the freedom that we all enjoy – and perhaps take for granted – today.

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Supply landings at Omaha Beach, mid-June 1944

He was one of the lucky ones who came back alive after the war, returning to teaching as the Headmaster of Grasmere School in the Lake District. Many were not so lucky: by the time Paris was liberated in August 1944, 200,000 of the Allied troops who had landed in France were dead, wounded or missing. On the anniversary of this important day in history, we should all take time to remember those who gave their lives so that we could live ours in liberty.

The Class of 2019

Today we’ve said farewell to the Year 13 class of 2019. This wonderful group of students – many of whom have been with us for seven years – have contributed immeasurably to the Academy over their careers with us. They are heading off to bright futures, and we wish them all well!

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Year 13 Class of 2019

Last week, the Year 11 class of 2019 had their last day celebrations before they began their study leave on Monday. The students were fantastic! Many of them took the time to find staff who had helped them over their time at Churchill to offer thanks. These small acts of gratitude made such a difference to the staff, and are a testament to the strength of the relationships which make the Academy such a great place to work and learn.

The day concluded with my Leavers’ Assembly, where we looked back over some of the memories staff had collected over the time Year 11 had spent with us. I promised I would share some on the blog – so enjoy!

My final message to all our students moving on to their next stage is captured in the following quotation from my Headteacher hero, Albus Dumbledore:

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We are all born with different abilities, different predispositions, different advantages and disadvantages in life. But these are not limiting factors. We are not bound by our circumstances.  We can choose to make the most of the situations we find ourselves in, choose to take chances and opportunities when we have them, choose to take on the difficult challenge or the easy option. It is these choices that define us all. I hope that Churchill has provided all of our students with the knowledge and skills to make the best choices, so you can be what you truly are and deserve to be.

Neurodiversity Week 2019

This week has been Neurodiversity Week at Churchill, as we have been exploring together the variations and differences in our brains that help to make up our rich community.

Neurodiversity is term adopted by sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s. She was frustrated that differences in the make-up of our brains were too often being seen as problems or challenges to be overcome, rather than part of the natural variations in our human makeup. She proposed that neurological differences – differences in our brains – should be recognised and respected as much as any other human variation.

It’s a well-accepted fact that everyone’s brain is different. We are all unique. We recognise that our individual brain is “wired up” differently to anybody else’s. My brain, for example is wired up so that I am left handed. As a small child, I reached for objects with my left hand, and instinctively kicked a ball with my left foot. Despite the fact that everyone else in my family was right handed, it’s just the way my brain was made!

There are many other differences in the ways our brains work. Some people are naturally more organised than others; some have better hand-eye coordination; some see colours differently; others have superb memories for names and faces. What Judy Singer recognised was that some differences in the ways our brains work were characterised with negative stereotypes. Labels such as dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, autistic spectrum disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome and others were seen as problems to be “fixed” or “cured;” Singer argued instead that they should be respected and recognised.

Neurodivergent individuals may have many strengths that those without the differences lack: perseverance, creativity, problem solving, oral communication, resourcefulness, visualisation, and practical skills being just some examples. This may be why there are so many highly successful individuals who have neurodivergent qualities:

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This week students have been learning about neurodiversity. They have been discussing how we all need to value our differences, and not to see people who differ from us as “other.” How boring would life be if we were all identical? What can we learn from each other? And how can we celebrate our strengths?

Above all, whilst we are all born with different strengths and weaknesses, what we also know is that our abilities and intelligence are not fixed. Through hard work, careful practice and determination, we can improve on all aspects of our natural ability – and that this process continues throughout our life, not just at school.

 

Lessons from the Champions League

What a week of football it’s been! Liverpool and Spurs both overturned seemingly overwhelming odds in the second legs of their semi-finals to set up an all-Premier League final.

There’s no doubt about it – Liverpool were immense on Tuesday night. Coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the first leg to defeat Barcelona 4-3 on aggregate and book their place in the Champions League final is the stuff of legend. When Trent Alexander-Arnold took the corner for Divock Origi to score the fourth Liverpool goal, he caught a team of legends and international superstars napping and dumped them out of the competition.

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It’s not the first time it’s happened, either. Last year, Barcelona were through to the quarter-finals and carrying a 4-1 lead into the second leg against Roma. They were defeated 3-0 in that second leg, and it was Roma that went through to the semi-finals (where they were beaten by Liverpool!)

This fact did not escape the Barcelona players in the painful aftermath of their defeat this week. Luis Suarez, ex-Liverpool striker now playing for Barcelona, summed it up in a post-match interview:

“We have to do a lot of self-criticism because this is the second time that the same thing has happened to us. We cannot commit the same mistake two years in a row. There are many things we need to consider and think about.”

What struck me about Barcelona is that they went out of the Champions League because the players weren’t concentrating. Liverpool, on the other hand, were completely switched on, focused on the task in hand, and playing every single second as though their lives depended on it. For Liverpool on Tuesday, the idea of “giving up” wasn’t even a possibility. The incredible support at Anfield certainly gave them the belief and the boost they needed.

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Then, the following night, Tottenham Hotspur pulled off a second incredible comeback – this time overturning a 3-0 deficit in just 45 minutes of football, away from home against a really strong Ajax side. Just like with Liverpool, the first-choice striker was unable to play, but the team showed in their battling determination that they just refused to be beaten. Lucas Moura was quicker, more focused, more switched on than the Ajax team, and poached the final goal as the final seconds of stoppage time ticked away.

These were two magical nights of football, even for a neutral like me. As a Watford supporter, I hope that my team can capture some of Spurs and Liverpool’s “never give up” fighting spirit in the forthcoming FA Cup Final against Manchester City. And as a Headteacher, I hope that our students can capture some of the same spirit in their endeavours. I hope that our students see that lapses in concentration can cost you, and remember to stay focused all the time. I hope they see that, whilst we all make mistakes, we have to learn from them – and that there’s really no excuse for making the same mistake twice. I hope they see that with hard work, effort and determination, nothing is impossible; and that, with the support of those around you in the community, you’ll never walk alone.

 

Revision: the final stretch

This is a short term, and many of our students are now in the final furlong before the finish line of public exams at GCSE and A-level. Speaking tests and practical exams have already started, and Year 11 and Year 13 can now count the days until their first written exams. I thought this was the ideal opportunity to give some final advice and reminders for effective revision in the final stretch.

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1. Break it up

Cramming doesn’t work. Revision is most effective when it is spaced out, with breaks in between. This allows the brain to consolidate what you have revised, and also helps keep a healthy balance between revision and relaxation. Take fifteen minutes off for every hour of revision completed – it’ll help you remember what you’ve learned, and stop you going stir-crazy.

2. Make your brain work hard

In order to remember something, you really have to think about it. Just reading through notes, watching a revision video on YouTube, or listening to a recording of the key information is not going to help you remember information, because your brain isn’t having to try very hard. Re-reading, watching or listening on their own are passive activities. For information to stick, you need to actively do something with it – so turn the information you’ve read, watched or listened to into something else. A mind-map, a spider-diagram, a practice answer, a poster, a set of flashcards…you choose! Taking information from a source, processing it, and turning it into something else will help you to recall it better. After a proper 45-minute revision session, you should feel tired – you will need that break! (see tip 1).

3. Practice makes perfect

At this stage of revision, in the final weeks, your best preparation will be to practice exactly what you will have to do in the real exam. Practice questions, completed from memory to the same timings as the exam, will not only sharpen up your exam technique but will also help you remember what you’ve learned because they are a form of retrieval practice. You can get past papers or practice questions from your teachers, the Academy’s VLE, and services such as MyMaths, but also from exam board websites, and revision sites such as Get Revising or Bitesize.

This excellent video from the BBC summarises these three strong approaches to revision:

Good luck?

If you’re well-prepared, you know your stuff, and you’ve practised your exam technique, you shouldn’t need luck – the exam is just an opportunity to show the examiner what you can do. But good luck to all our exam-takers anyway!

What’s happening to the Academy site?

Tudor is down

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Where Tudor/Science used to be

We’ve returned from Easter to open skies where the old Tudor/Science block used to be. The light is pouring in where the old building used to overshadow the playgrounds and the Sixth Form. This space – when it is cleared – will become a new car park for staff and Sixth Form. It’s now possible to visualise how the Academy’s site will take shape over the coming year.

The Tech Block is going

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Just before Easter, we received the news that we had been granted funding to demolish the final original building, this single-storey Technology block. It will be replaced by a two-storey extension to the Athene Donald Building. The architects had planned the Donald Building with the extension in mind, so the process should be smooth and completed in a year!

Reception is moving

SSite changes for September 2019

Reception, administration, finance, HR, and First Aid will all move down to Hanover from September 2019. Access to reception will be from the main sports centre car park, which will be the only car park available for public access. My office will also be relocated down to this new hub, just next to the main reception.

The current reception area will become a new social space for students, just next door to the Academy Hall. I have been working with the House Captains of Hanover, Stuart, Tudor and Windsor to help design this space, which we plan to open in September for students of all houses to use.

Green Team redevelopment

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The new broadwalk pathway in development

The Academy’s student-led Green Team has been working with local landscape architects and suppliers to ensure that our new site is a beautiful and environmentally sustainable place to learn and work. Over Easter, volunteers began clearing spaces alongside the new central broadwalk path for planting, which will take place over the summer terms. There are also plans for a Sixth Form garden and a vegetable garden behind the Donald building to supply Food and Nutrition lessons. This is alongside the Green Team’s wider work to promote sustainability and reduce the Academy’s carbon footprint, including the solar panels project and the introduction of a car-share incentive scheme.

Change is afoot!

With so much change happening, it can be difficult to keep track! The Academy is very fortunate to have a dedicated team, led by Deputy Headteacher Mr Branch, overseeing this work. We are also grateful for our partnership with building contractors Mealings, who are completing the works, alongside our fantastic site team of Mr White, Mr Butler and Mr Winstanley. By this time next year, the site will be very different indeed – and a much-improved space for our students to enjoy for many years to come.

Eating and drinking to improve brain power

Top revision tips from Miss Tucker

1. The right kind of fat

1vqaw_ph_400x400Firstly, brains need fats! But no ordinary fats, it needs superstar fatty acids Omega 3 and 6. These essential fatty acids are linked to preventing a decline in mental skills and memory loss, and must come from what we eat and drink. Eating nuts, seeds, oily fish or drinking fish oil supplements (like cod liver oil) are all seen to be crucial to the creation and maintenance of brain cells. Those who consume more of these fats in their diet have sharper minds and do better at mental skills tests.

Salmon is an excellent source of these essential fats. Fresh, canned or frozen salmon is fabulous in fish cake patties. Good vegetarian alternatives includes pumpkin seeds and walnuts, or frozen soya beans are a good cheap source too and are great in a stir fry.

While Omegas are good fats for brains, eating other high fat foods containing artificial trans or partially hydrogenated fats do not just compromise brain health; they can impair memory, and lower brain volume. Thankfully most of these bad fats have been removed from supermarket and the big fast food brands but they are still common place in cheaper backstreet independent takeaways and imported American supermarket sweets and snacks (like the Reese, Hershey’s, and Flipz).  Give the body junk food, and the brain is certainly going to suffer.

2. Antioxidants

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There’s a huge amount of chemical processing in the brain which can make it highly susceptible to something called ‘oxidative’ damage but there are things called ‘antioxidants’ that are thought to protect against the harmful effects. Fortunately there is a wide variety of good antioxidants to be found in fruits and vegetables that enables brains to work well for longer periods of time. Different coloured fruit and vegetables provide the body with different types of antioxidants, with purple and blue particularly linked to a reduction in mental decline and other benefits. Blueberries for example have an antioxidant capacity significantly higher than vitamins C or E, and studies have shown improved memory with a diet including blueberries and strawberries (plus the seeds from berries are also another great source of Omega-3). In general, when it comes to berries the more intense the colour, the more nutrition in the berry. So, why not try adding some fresh berries to yogurt or a bowl of oats in the morning?

3. Micronutrients

health-benefits-of-pumpkin-seeds-by-greenblenderThe brain needs a steady supply of other micronutrients, and without powerful vitamins B6 and B12 our brains are susceptible to brain disease and mental decline. Also, small amounts of the minerals iron, copper, zinc and sodium are fundamental to brain health and cognitive development. All dairy foods are packed with protein and the B vitamins needed for the growth of brain tissue and neurotransmitters; milk and yogurt are a great source. Lean beef is one of the best absorbed sources of iron, and also contains zinc, which helps with memory. For vegetarians, beans are a good choice of iron (plus they contain yet more omega-3 fatty acids). For zinc, the mineral vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills, pumpkin seeds are richer than many other seeds.

4. Carbohydrates

c618b53a-6262-11e8-a998-12ee0acfa260To enable the brain to efficiently perform it needs lots of the right type of fuel, most of which comes from carbohydrates, but specific carbohydrates effect how the brain responds. What we call ‘high glycemic’ food like white breads cause a rapid release of glucose into the blood followed by a big dip as blood sugar shoots down – and with it, your attention span.  On the other hand, oats, wholemeal bread, and ‘brown’ rice and pasta have far slower glucose release enabling a steadier level of attentiveness. Low-fat popcorn, switching bread to wholemeal and oats make for cheap, easy options. Oats also are good sources of vitamin E and B, as well as potassium and zinc – which make our bodies and brains function at full capacity. You could also try dry oats in a fruit smoothie to thicken it.

5. Choline

Choline, neither vitamin nor mineral, is another micronutrient that is essential in tiny amounts for brain development and memory function, and concentration. You’ll find it in beans, broccoli, lean beef, yogurt and eggs (especially the yolk). Eggs are great brain food also being vitamin B rich, but stick with poached or boiled; or why not have scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast?

6. Hydration

benefits-of-drinking-waterFor sustained brain power opting for a varied balanced diet of nutrient rich foods in three separate meals a day is critical. So is drinking the equivalent of between 6-8 glasses of water a day (between 1.9 and 2.25 litres) to avoid suffering dehydration, tiredness, and lack of concentration and short-term memory. Our brains are 73% water! Avoid caffeinated drinks as they can leave you irritable, sleepless, and anxious, and they have diuretic properties that can leads to further dehydration. Instead try un-caffeinated relaxing herbal chamomile tea, which has been  shown to improve cognitive function.

7. Sleep and exercise

Don’t forget that as well as a healthy diet, aiming for eight hours sleep and exercising helps to keep brains sharp. Research suggests that regular exercise improves cognitive function, slows down the mental aging process and helps us process information more effectively.

Good luck!

The importance of active lives

This week saw the publication of Sport England’s annual Active Lives Children and Young People Survey, revealing the attitudes of school-aged children up and down the country towards sports, exercise and physical activity.

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The five key findings are:

  1. Physically literate children are more likely to be active. The more of the five elements of physical literacy – enjoyment, confidence, competence, understanding and knowledge – children have, the more active they are likely to be.
  2. Enjoyment is the biggest driver of activity levels. While all of the reported attitudes make a difference, enjoying sport and physical activity makes the biggest difference to activity levels.
  3. Physically literate children are happier, more resilient, and more trusting of others.The more elements of physical literacy are present, the higher the levels of happiness, resilience and social trust.
  4. Physical literacy decreases with age. As children grow older, they report lower levels of enjoyment, confidence, competence, and understanding.
  5. There are important inequalities that must be tackled. Girls and those children and young people form less affluent families are less likely to be active.
Churchill sports Day 29th June  2018

Churchill sports Day 29th June 2018

The report itself finds clear links between leading an active lifestyle and mental wellbeing, happiness and resilience. Interestingly, the studies found that having a positive attitude towards sport and physical activity was the strongest driver of happiness and resilience levels – more so than activity levels.

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These findings underline much of what we are trying to achieve with our Physical Education curriculum at Churchill. Especially in Core PE during Years 9, 10 and 11, our aim is to ensure that all our students have a secure grounding in physical literacy, but above all to ensure that they develop a positive attitude towards sport and physical activity – and they they enjoy it! It is so important to us that we equip our young people, when they leave us, to lead an active and healthy lifestyle independently, not because they know they ought to, but because they want to.

Churchill sports Day 29th June  2018

Churchill sports Day 29th June 2018

This year, thanks to the hard work of Mr Hayne and the PE team, supported by Assistant Headteacher Mrs Gill, we are proud to be working alongside Sport England to develop approaches to training teachers in PE which develop physical literacy to improve enjoyment of PE and Sport, and to ensure as many children and young people as possibe adopt an active lifestyle. Mr Hayne and his team are working across eight schools in North Somerset to develop these approaches, to introduce some new sports, and to work with experts from local gyms and fitness centres to train staff in new approaches. We’re already seeing some of the benefits, and we’re looking forward to more over the course of this year-long project.

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We can all do more to ensure that we lead active and healthy lifestyles. Walking the dog, going for a run, a bike ride, taking the stairs instead of the lift…every little helps. Find something you enjoy, get up and go – the benefits are clear!

Click here to read more from Sport England about their Active Lives Children and Young People survey.